Tag Archives: celtic

Pagan, Shinto & Spiritual Book Reviews March 2016

mar2016

This month’s reviews include books on Celtic Paganism, Christo-Paganism, and a very new translation of a very old Shinto text…click here to read them all!

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“Celts: Art and Identity” at the British Museum

Gundestrup

By derivative work: Fuzzypeg★ Detail_of_antlered_figure_on_the_Gundestrup_Cauldron.jpg: Bloodofox [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, my husband treated me to a trip to the Celts: Art & Identity exhibit at the British Museum in London. Although pricey, it is a fantastic exhibition, showcasing an incredible variety of stunning Celtic objects; enormous gold and silver torcs, horned helmets, shields, stone Celtic crosses, figures of Gods and Goddesses, and examples of beautiful Celtic illuminated manuscripts.

For me, the highlight of the exhibit was the magnificent Gundestrupe Cauldron, an enormous silver bowl dating from between 200 BC and 300 AD. It is a spectacular sight, ornately decorated both inside and out with pictures thought to depict ancient Celtic legends. Among Pagans, it is perhaps most famous for its enigmatic depiction of a figure with antlers, gripping a torc in one hand and a snake in the other, surrounded by wild animals. We do not know who this man is for sure, but among Pagans he is commonly identified with the Horned God, sometimes called Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter.

Seeing the famous Cernunnos figure in real life, after seeing the image so many times in photos or reproduced as statues or items of jewellery, left a deep impression on me. I have to say that after seeing this image, it does seem likely to me that it depicts a God. His strange, meditative pose, his interaction with the snake, and his animal companions, certainly seem to suggest a powerful spirit of the forest and nature.

But what impressed me most of all was not what this figure may have originally symbolised, but what he represents now. To modern-day Pagans, the Cernunnos figure is an icon – and I mean this very much in the religious sense of the word. He has become a symbol of the Great God and the spirit of nature, and represents a link to the ways of our ancestors. So for me, as a Pagan, going to see the Gundestrup Cauldron was very much a pilgrimage, evoking the same emotions that Christians, and members of any other religion, must feel when they visit a significant place of worship or see a famous relic or icon.

The Celts exhibition runs until January 31st, and I very much recommend going to see the Cauldron and all the other incredible artefacts while you have the chance!

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Reflections on the “Spiral Music” Collection

MagicalEncounters1

I was really excited to learn that Spiral Music, a small, independent record company in the UK that made some really unique New Age/Gothic/Celtic music in the late 80s and early 90s, has decided to re-release four of its most popular pieces on CD! I still prefer owning physical CDs to files, so I was especially pleased to hear this.

I have grown up with Spiral Music (you could find the CDs in shops like the famous Star Child in Glastonbury) and even today, I use it for meditation and rituals (as well as just listening to it for pleasure because they’re really beautiful). They’re from very much a lost era of music – back when producing commercial electronic music was pretty hard work, and when musicians often saw electronic music as being a low-cost “substitute” for hiring real instruments, rather than being treated as an instrument in its own sake. Philip Le Breton, the producer behind the re-released CDs, certainly seems to have seen it this way – he’s tried to make lots of the electronic sounds as “natural” as possible (for example, electronic choral pieces stay within human vocal ranges), and indeed he mixes lots of real instruments into the work as well.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity of this re-release to share my thoughts on these wonderful musical works, in the hope that Spiral gets a bit more recognition!

MagicalEncounters1Magical Encounters 

This was Spiral’s first releases, and it’s a firm favourite among fans – it’s also one of my favourites as well. Inspired by Celtic legends, it’s designed to evoke images of ancient standing stones and mystic lakes. There’s a lovely pathworking text included to aid with meditation to this music.

Reflecting its early origins (like all of Philip Le Breton’s works for Spiral, it started out as a cassette first), it has two tracks – “Side 1” and “Side 2.” My favourite of these has to be Side 1 – it’s really Gothic-sounding with a bell tolling throughout the beginning. You can hear a bit of Track 1 on the Spiral Music website. The sounds of the bell and choir are coupled with birdsong, creating an atmosphere that’s both eerie and serene at the same time.

Track 2 is nice as well – the sound of running water coupled with mystical sounds, and I really like the finale, which has a dreamlike smallpipe solo.

KnightsDestiny A Knight’s Destiny

Spiral’s second release, A Knight’s Destiny, is one of the less popular releases, possibly because it’s one of the weirder ones. But that’s why I really like it! Based on the Arthurian legends, the music is really strange and dreamy. Listening to it feels like going on a strange, spiritual journey (a Grail Quest, even!), starting with the gloomy, atmospheric opening of “A Wounded Traveller” and going on to the more mystical-sounding “Merlin” and “The Unborn Child Galahad,” finally ending with wild “Dragon.” It’s accompanied by a pathworking text that’s as strange and mystical as the music, evoking both the mysticism and the tragedy of the knights of the round table. Definitely one of the more challenging CDs, but recommended for this very reason.

Special bonus – both “Magical Encounters” and “A Knight’s Destiny” have specially-commissioned artwork by renowned Celtic artist Courtney David on the cover, which is pretty special for any fans of modern Celtic art.

GreenMan The Green Man

By the time The Green Man was released, New Age music had become a pretty big industry. Reflecting this, The Green Man is a little more commercial in sound, attempting to incorporate some of the same sounds that lots of other popular New Age artists were using – pan-pipes, drumming and twinkly bells. The first track is pretty standard-sounding New Age music to me – nice, pretty, but not so distinct. However, the second track is really special – it includes an amazing drumming sequence accompanied by a dramatic bagpipe solo that I always look forward to every time I listen to it. I also really like the pathworking text in this one – it explores the possible “character” of the Green Man and has a nice environmental message. Oh, and you’ve probably seen the cover before – this painting by Aaron Gadd of the Green Man has become iconic.

AtlantisAtlantis

In this CD, Philip Le Breton departs away from Celtic folklore and into the legend of Atlantis. Both Atlantis and whale song were popular New Age motifs at the time, and this music incorporates both. The first track (which is the more “oceany” one) features lots of natural Humpback Whale song. I’ve listened to a lot of music incorporating whale song, and what I really like about this one is that it doesn’t stray into the over-sentimental or schmaltzy background music that you get with lots of other music featuring whales; it’s mysterious, mystical and has a “lonely” quality that really evokes the ocean depths. If you like the strange, eerie music from the old Ecco the Dolphin games, you’ll probably like this. The second track doesn’t have any whale song, but I really like it because it really seems to evoke the ancient myths of the magical Greek city of Atlantis. It has some nice, ghostly seagull calls as well. I find Atlantis the most relaxing of these four CDs, and really enjoy it.

If you want to listen to some really unique, atmospheric, magical and beautiful music from the proto-New Age era, I really recommend getting some of these CDs. Whether you want to use them for rituals or simply want to listen to them to chill out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you have an appreciation for early British electronica as well as all things Celtic and mystical!

You can find out more about these CDs, listen to some sample tracks, and of course buy them at http://spiralmusic.com. Just bear in mind the Spiral won’t be making any more copies of these CDs once they’re all sold out, so get in quick!

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“Medieval Days” Videos

It’s safe to say that most Pagans have a particular interest in ancient history, especially that of Celtic, Roman, Viking and Medieval Europe. I therefore thought I’d share my Dad’s latest project – making videos to teach little snippets about history on YouTube!

You see, my Dad’s main job is to go into schools, dressed in period costume and bringing in lots of historical artefacts, and perform “living history” presentations for the children. He’ll do just about any period requested from Early Man to the Second World War, and all his presentations are really hands-on; the children can pick up his genuine artefacts and examine them, something they wouldn’t be able to do in an average museum! My Dad’s done literally hundreds of these school visits now and seeing as they’re so popular, he thought he’d share some of his collection and know-how to others online.

If you’re a teacher or parent in the UK and are interesting in booking my Dad for a presentation at a school or youth group (he’ll also do adult groups such as rotary clubs as well if requested), you can book him through his website, http://www.MedievalDays.com.

Or if you just want to see more of his videos, they’re all here...

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A character commission comes to life!

noahveil-comparison

Earlier this year, I got contacted by a musician who likes my Goth [Stereo] Type art series, and he commissioned me to come up with a visual design for his band persona, Noah Veil, in a similar style.Based on some descriptions and character back story, I came up with this design, which draws inspiration from Ancient Egyptian, Celtic and Norse designs as well as Visual Kei.

Then a few days ago, Noah Veil contacted me to show me his in-character photo shoot (above) and first official music video (which you can view here).

I am really proud to be involved with this band – they look and sound amazing. I’ve been privileged enough to hear some demo recordings of some of their original tracks as well, and I can tell you that I’m very excited to hear more – very catchy, original and great to listen to…I think Noah Veil is definitely going places!

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Paganism and Wisdom

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Fukurokuju, Japanese god of wisdom and longevity

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Paganism does not have a prescribed moral code. However, I believe there are plenty of moral teachings in Paganism; they just aren’t necessarily spelled out as they are in Christianity. There are certain qualities that are held in high regard within Paganism, and one of these is wisdom.

I don’t think there is a single pagan path that has nothing to say about wisdom. Traditionally, practitioners of magick in the UK were often called “cunning men” or “wise women,” not to mention the archetype of the wizard, whose very name derives from “wise.” Every pantheon seems to have some kind of deity connected with wisdom – Hellenic Pagans have Athena, Heathens have Odin (who may have inspired the wizard archetype), Kemetic Pagans have Thoth, Celtic Pagans have Brigid, and the Japanese have Fukurokuju (pictured here). The prevalence of powerful and benevolent figures of wisdom in Pagan beliefs to me suggests that wisdom is not merely considered a virtue in Paganism – it is an essential quality for good living.

But what exactly is wisdom, and how does one aspire to be wise as a Pagan? I think wisdom is a complex and multi-layered quality that is difficult to achieve, but one that should be held as an ideal. Here are some of the things that I think make up wisdom, and how I try to achieve these in my own personal and spiritual growth:

1. Knowledge. I believe that knowledge is the primary basis for wisdom, which is why education is so very, very important. Fortunately I like learning things and keeping up to date with all the latest developments in science, art and society, so I don’t find this too difficult (although admittedly, I only tend to read about the subjects I am interested in!). Reading is a big part of my spiritual development as a Pagan too; sometimes, after a ritual and I’m waiting for the incense to burn out, I like to use the time to read my latest book on paganism to further my knowledge.

2. Reason. To some, the idea of reason and rationality co-existing with religion seems contradictory, but as I alluded in my Science and Paganism entry, I think it is possible. The ability to analyse and rationalise enables us to interpret the knowledge we acquire, as well as make sound judgements and decision. I’m not the best at logical thought (which is why I’m so bad at maths, I imagine!), but I try to hone my reasoning skills by thinking deeply about things and considering them from different angles.

3. Experience. Personal, real-life experience is probably the best thing in the world for increasing one’s understanding of reality, and I think it is absolutely essential for wisdom. Why are so many figures of wisdom in Paganism depicted as elderly? Because they have so much life experience, which is why they are wise! I feel the best experience of all is the experience that comes when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and try things that we find a little scary. As a rather insular person, I can find this rather difficult myself, but I try to see all experiences where I feel like a fish out of water to be positive ones that will ultimately lead me to being a wiser person.

4. Empathy. One of the qualities that differentiates wisdom from intelligence, cunning and intellectualism is the ability to see into the hearts of others and, what’s more, empathise with them and understand their needs and motivations. In other words, a sage should have good social skills! Again, I find this one difficult, because people are complex and require a lot of patience. They may well have thoughts and feelings that are entirely the opposite of my own in certain situations. But I do try hard to see things from other people’s point of view, even if I’m having difficulty getting on with them.

5. Serenity. Admittedly, some of the pagan god of wisdom (notably Athena and Odin) are not exactly serene characters, but others certainly are – take a look at the picture of Fukurokuju, with his kind eyes and gentle smile! Emotions such as anger, hate and fear are extremely potent, and so they should be – in the times of pre-civilisation, it was these feelings that governed our behaviour and kept us alive. But when it comes to pursuing wisdom, I think these emotions can be a big barrier, as they inhibit both our empathy and ability to reason and so result in distinctly unwise behaviour. Learning how to still one’s heart and control one’s emotions is an extremely difficult skill, but ultimately leads to greater wisdom. As a passionate person myself, I find inner serenity one of the hardest qualities to acquire. I try to control my inner feelings by keeping silent when the potential to say something harmful is present; by examining the situation objectively; and by trying to see the humour of the situation wherever possible.

6. Receptiveness. I think a wise person should always be open to new ideas – most of all, the idea that their own pre-conceived notions may not be entirely correct. Some people are afraid to question their own ideas when they hear differing opinions, as it could mean that they are somehow weak-willed and changeable; but I think it is good to be fluid and flexible in one’s opinions. You could even call changing one’s opinions a form of mental experience. Receptiveness to new ideas and the opinions of others not only lead to greater knowledge and creativity; it also allows us to learn to understand and accept the cultures of others. I am certainly guilty of stubbornly holding on to my beliefs purely because they are mine; but when I do try to be receptive and listen to the ideas of others, I find myself all the better for it.

7. Humour. This is perhaps wisdom of a different sort; the wisdom of the “wise fool.” There are plenty of examples of “wise fools” in paganism, as there are the more conventional gods of wisdom – there’s the mischievous Hermes and Dionysus in the Greek pantheon, both of whom inspire creativity; there are the fae folk of the Celts, who are the embodiment of wisdom within nonsense; and there is Uzume, the goddess of laughter in Shinto, whose foolish behaviour caused so much mirth that it tempted the sun goddess out of hiding and brought light to the world. I see humour as something of a “lubricant” for wisdom; it helps to control emotions, empathise with others, and stop one for becoming over serious and stuffy in one’s dedications to knowledge and wisdom. I actually think a sense of humour is one of the most important things a person can have, and that without humour, the world would be a very dark, hopeless place indeed. Which is why the sage needs an appreciation of the ridiculous, the nonsensical, and the absurd.

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